After thirty years working in black and white and a recent retrospective, nationally celebrated photographer and Guggenheim Fellow Gregory Conniff was “looking for a way to a new place.” Watermarks
is the result of that quest.
Incredibly, and fortuitously, that “new place” had been part of his neighborhood life for decades. When the intimate reflecting pool of the Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison became a hypnotic portal of luminosity, the photographer entered and felt a resurgence of purpose. His new pictures—abstracted but specific reports of water marked by motion and light—began to look like whole sight. It was a gamble to leave behind his tripod, medium-format camera, and black-and-white film, and go full digital, hand-held, and think in color. It paid off spectacularly with Watermarks.
Remarkably, in this otherwise conventional garden subject, all the images are upside down. That is what reflections do: they reverse directions. Following the photographer’s exacting sequence of forty-two images leads us to other abstractions and curiosities. Conniff has set aside landmark references to zoom in to the water’s surface, leaving the eye to hover above a fluid cauldron of color. Closer still, the aqueous branches and foliage are further stretched in the distorting spectacle. They disintegrate and all sense of orientation vanishes in a glaze of color and light. Finally, leaves are once more recognizable floating on the autumn pool, a stone reemerges, and we regain a sense of place and a time in season.